The Role of Professional Bodies and architecture in Civil Society


A concerned caller on 702 last week raised his concern at the speed with which schools were being constructed around Ward 106 (Bryanston East etc) et al. No one would deny the dire need for education facilities in South Africa, but these are to be ready for the new school year in January 2015. Two months! Fast track is good when you know how, but given our abysmal record of service delivery, we are simply putting out one fire only to have it reignite as a conflagration later.

Two other pieces of information are noteworthy. In a recent study by the UIA (International Union of Architects), South Africa ranked about 88th/105 countries on a list of architects per capita. The only major country below us was our BricChina, Russia. It can be debated whether we do or don’t have enough architects (not counting the Cuban architects working for the State), but what it does reveal is the value a particular society values on architecture. Clearly in South Africa it is not highly rated. A school is not simply a collection of brick volumes gathered around a dusty playground. It should be a highly sensitised and sensitive organism that educates the youth on a multi-level approach and connects with its local community to contribute to the betterment of all. It is quite possibly the most important civic building in our society. So this building is not going to pop up in a few months.

The second piece of information is that SACAP has announced an amnesty for ‘removed Candidates and Professionals’. This brings into question the role of the professional bodies in promoting architecture particularly in the public realm. SACAP is a regulatory body which requires practicing architects, technologists and technicians be registered. Considering our national penchant for home generated degrees, diplomas and Phds, clearly some sort of control is necessary. But I’m not sure that it is SACAP’s role. So what are the roles of SACAP, SAIA and SAIAT?

It will cost R4500 to re-register with SACAP, but there is little indication of how that figure was generated. One assumes that if a practitioner does not re-register that they expose themselves to prosecution? Is there any guarantee that SACAP will operate any more efficiently then the previous parlous state that caused many practitioners to lapse their membership? If SACAP’s role (amongst others) is not to promote architecture at least to government and parastatals, then whose is it?

The voluntary associations? SAIA like a federal government, maintains an overall base, conducts foreign relations and national discourse (not that we have much in South Africa). The real work is done by the regions; who are not chapters of the parent body, operating with a single voice. The local bodies retain a level of autonomy which results in a variegated service around the country. This makes it difficult to liaise with national, provincial and local authorities on the effective integration of architecture into society which is ultimately its primary aim viz. to provide buildings that satisfy the physical, emotional and intellectual needs of people (and animals, er okay and plants). The national Metros either don’t have think tanks or they are protected under the National Strategic Keypoints Act, which prevents us from knowing what they are. So they are not offering guidelines on where our cities are going either.

Sustainable architecture is still perceived as an optional extra which allows the Green Building Council an opportunity to guide, evaluate and educate, all at a cost of course. Ultimately all architecture should be sustainable and it’s not about catchy design elements tacked onto a building. It is about the role a school can play in a community that uses as little energy and water as possible; generates a little waste as possible and recycles what it does. It provides a backbone for the community at large. It satisfies these requirements and titillates the eye. That is good architecture.

Who will guide the design of Ward 106’s schools?

The writer has BArch from Wits and a Phd from the University of Craighall Park